Participation Marketing: A Brands New Secret Weapon?

 In Digital Marketing
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Storytelling has become increasingly important for brands. Not that it’s a new concept, in fact brands have been telling stories since the dawn of marketing. But, in recent years, a much deeper focus on telling a story through a brand has emerged. Brands want to be able to really connect with their potential customers on a deeply emotional, personal, and psychological level.

One relatively new and unique way many brands are starting to embrace the concept of storytelling is by embracing participation marketing.

Read along to learn some of the basics of what participation marketing is, and some of the best practices for incorporating it into your own marketing strategy.

Participation Marketing: The Basics

At it’s most basic, participation marketing brings the brand, the brand’s employees, customers, and industry influencers all into the conversation together. It helps to forge the bond between the brand and it’s customers.

But, behind that bond there is a bit of science.

Data has shown that consumers are far more likely to trust their friends and family more than a brand when it comes to helping to make the buying decision.

This comes into play online. When a consumer sees their friends or family talking about a brand they love, giving a five star review, or sharing a photo on Instagram that builds trust.. And trust is crucial to building long term relationships.

What is also interesting is that the same holds true for a brand’s employees. When consumers are able to interact with them online, and when they are featured in marketing campaigns, it also elicits a positive response from consumers. Employees are often seen by consumers as “experts” when it comes to a brand and that builds trust.

So, it’s pretty easy to see why so many brands are looking to embrace participation marketing, especially when it comes to getting their employees involved. Having that active participation between a brand and consumers is a really good way to set your brand apart.

Now that you’ve seen a bit about what participation marketing is, let’s take a look at a few best practices for you to follow.

Participation Marketing: Best Practices

Alright, so you want to start exploring the possibilities of using participating marketing in some of your campaigns, but you aren’t sure how to go about doing it.

After all, one of the “negatives” associated with this type of marketing is it can be quite difficult to do in a way that is truly effective and really speaks to consumers.

So, here we’ll cover a few tips and highlight some examples of brands that have been able to really embrace this type of marketing and make it work.

Set Goals

Yes, seems pretty obvious, but it is incredibly important to have a goal when you start your strategy. What is it? Having your customers perform an action? Having your employees feel like they have a sense of purpose and agency? Creating a feeling of trust that you can build on over time? Know what it is and keep that in mind throughout the process.

Know Your Story

Don’t forget, a huge part of participation marketing is embracing and showcasing storytelling. So hand in hand with having goals is knowing what your storyline and story board is going to be. Your brand needs to be able to weave the story of your product or service with the story provided by your customers and employees.


One way a brand can get into trouble when it comes to participating marketing is not collaborating with the participants (usually employees or consumers) enough. Remember, this is about storytelling and them telling their story as it relates to your brand. If it feels too directed then your not going to get that positive emotional impact from the consumers that are trying to be reached.

Participation Marketing in Action

There are a number of brands right now that have fully embraced participation marketing and are seeing the results in terms of increased brand loyalty, and even viral campaigns.

Here, we’ll take a look at a couple examples of brands that have run a few successful campaigns.

ALS Foundation

via Forbes

via Forbes

One of the biggest examples of participation marketing that swept the nation (and raised millions of dollars in the process) was the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge of 2014.

ALS asked people to donate to their foundation by dumping a bucket of ice water on their heads and calling out other friends to do it via video, or donate money to the cause. It was hard to go anywhere and not see videos all over social media and traditional media talking about this event, which was completely performed by consumers.

Just by having a campaign that involved regular people, ALS was able to raise over $114 million in 8 weeks, over 4 times the amount of money that was raised in 2013. This money has been credited with helping fund some recent research breakthrouhs as well.


Even with the push towards more healthy foods, soft drink brand Coca-Cola is still thriving. One of the big reasons why is they have developed a number of marketing strategies that really target the emotions of their customers.

With their more recent Share a Coke campaign, the brand looked to involve their consumers directly in marketing. Instead of having the traditional labels on each bottle or can of Coke, they instead took over 250 common names and terms of endearment and put those on the label instead.

The brand then asked consumers to use a hashtag #shareacoke to spread the word.

The results spoke for themselves. This campaign, when it started in 2014 was credited with a massive increase in sales (which had been in decline for years). Since then, the campaign has returned with even more names (1,000 alone in just the United States) and is bigger than ever with many new worldwide campaigns.

Final Thoughts

These are just a few examples of how participation marketing is being embraced today. Sometimes, just getting consumers and employees involved in a more organic way can create an incredible viral buzz that brings a campaign to the next level.

Next time you’re going to try out a new marketing campaign, consider working directly with those who might be your greatest advocates, your consumers and employees. More often than not, you’re going to be able to build something really interesting that directly connects with your potential consumers than a traditional campaign.

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